California Universal Health Bill Advances, but Faces Veto
SAN FRANCISCO - Sixteen months ago, while working as a contract registered nurse in San Francisco, Cynthia Campbell purchased a short-term health insurance policy.
Blue Cross of California refused to extend her policy after she used the plan once for a minor infection, Campbell said, and in a pinch she bought another short-term policy from Blue Shield of California.
Last summer, she worked a Friday shift, got sick over the weekend, and a week later was diagnosed with two aggressive forms of cancer -- rhabdomyosarcoma and adenosarcoma.
On July 20, her health insurance policy runs out and no one will insure her, Campbell told the Assembly Health Committee on Tuesday while testifying in support of Senate Bill 840.
The single-payer health care plan by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, would abolish private insurance and replace it with universal coverage administered by the state.
"I'm too young for Medicare, and I make too much money for Medi-Cal," Campbell, 53, told the panel. "But one eligibility worker told me how I could get Medi-Cal: 'Get pregnant, get the Medi-Cal card, abort the baby, and keep the card.' This is my only option."
SB 840 cleared the Democratic-controlled committee on a 12-5 vote but faces a certain veto by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger has criticized Kuehl's plan as "government-run health care."
The governor and Democratic legislative leaders are pushing separate health plans that would give insurance companies more business -- in Schwarzenegger's case, by requiring individuals to purchase coverage. Under both plans, insurance companies would be required to cover patients like Campbell with pre-existing conditions.
Kuehl is undeterred that Schwarzenegger vetoed her single-payer bill last year and has said he will do so again. She maintains that only a single-payer plan will provide universal and comprehensive coverage.
"Californians have been left pretty helplessly stranded as their health care system crumbles around them," Kuehl told the committee.
But Republican opponents said SB 840 will lead to higher taxes and health-care rationing, stunt business growth and deter medical innovation.
"I want to submit to you that California's (health care system) is not perfect, and your case is an illustration of that," Assemblyman Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, told Campbell. "But let's not destroy that which is good in favor of something that has mislogical features."
After 31 years as a nurse, during which she faithfully paid her health insurance premiums, Campbell said her story illustrates more of the bad than the good in the system.
Her illness has left her too weak to stand for long, and her hair is just beginning to grow back after a break in chemotherapy. But Campbell is not about to go meekly as she fights for her life and for changing a system she feels has betrayed her.
Campbell and her husband, Allen, have demonstrated outside Blue Shield's corporate headquarters in San Francisco. They have enlisted the aid of lawmakers like Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, D-San Francisco.
And on Tuesday, they arrived outside the Capitol shortly after 8 a.m. -- bullhorn in hand -- to call attention to a cause that is both personal and political.
"We had insurance companies in the '70s when I became a nurse, but it was nothing like this," she said before Tuesday's hearing. "Now, if you use insurance, you're just viewed as a liability -- you're taking money from them even though it was your premium."
Nick Garcia, a spokesman for Blue Cross, confirmed Campbell's policy was not extended, but said he was precluded by federal law from discussing her case.
Tom Epstein, a spokesman for Blue Shield, said Campbell bought a short-term policy that was not renewable.
Such policies have lower premiums and are designed to fill in coverage gaps for people in transition, such as college graduates looking for their first job, Epstein said.
During her testimony before the Assembly panel, Campbell said that when she bought the short-term plans, she anticipated she would ultimately be hired as an permanent employee by UCSF Medical Center, where she was working.
Campbell said she had no idea that she would be stricken with cancer and that the expiration of a short-term insurance policy would leave her with no options.
"I've been a nurse for 30 years and I'm an epidemiologist," she told the committee. "And the fact that I didn't know that with my background, I guarantee you the public does not know that."
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